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First club comp on clay in NZ

The first interclub fixture to be played on clay in New Zealand will be a feature of the Gawith Shield Championship, which starts on Saturday.

Defending champions Carterton, Martinborough, and Opaki are the only three clubs lining up for the traditional interclub format of four men and two women teams.

The competition will comprise three rounds, including two Thursday-Saturday doubleheaders to reduce the number of non-tennis weekends for the players. The top two teams after the three rounds will meet in the final on March 18.

Each fixture will feature four men’s and two women’s singles and two men’s and one women’s doubles. The second round of fixtures will see a change, though, with the teams to play reverse singles and mixed doubles.

Another highlight will be the playing of the third-round fixture between Carterton and Martinborough on the clay court established by tennis coach Jacob Emery and his partner Teresa Ross on their Martinborough property.

The red clay surface will present a new challenge for players, with the ball coming off the surface slower and bouncing higher.

Despite only the three clubs competing for the Gawith Shield, there are some seriously good players in the squads, and an even competition should ensue.

Carterton have good reason to be confident of defending their title, having won the pre-Christmas Shirley Corlett Trophy with Carterton Black beating Carterton White in the final.

William Day, Rudo Erasmus, and female German teenager Mara Beyerle, who plays in the men’s section, were unbeaten in singles play pre-Christmas.

Veteran Matt Spooner brings experience to the top half of the order. Josh Hutchings is a solid lower-order player, and Central Region junior representative William Orsborn is sure to test his more experienced opponents.

Their women’s squad comprises Alice and Elizabeth Whitaker, Eilis Daily, and Karen Goodall. The Whitaker sisters and Daily have tuned up for the competition by playing in the regional two men’s competition and will take some beating; however, all three are based in Wellington and won’t play any Thursday night fixtures.

Perennial frontrunners Martinborough will again take the court with a strong, experienced squad. Chris Wilkie and Shane Colton came within a whisker of qualifying for the Shirley Corlett Trophy final, only missing out on sets differential, while Ed Wilkie, Marco De Groot, Rick Wilkie, and Mike Jones have tasted championship success in recent seasons.

The talented Gabi Nicholson will be the one to watch in the women, with support from the experienced trio of Rhona Lovell, Katherine Jacobs, and Marta Wojcikowski.

Opaki will front with arguably their strongest team in several years, although much will depend on the performance of their men’s and women’s number ones, Boon Huxtable and Katie Alsop.

Huxtable has lost only one interclub match in the past three years, a three-set defeat to Carterton’s William Day in October. Alsop has been at the forefront of women’s tennis in Wairarapa for many years. Although her appearances have been spasmodic in recent seasons, she showed that she had lost none of her competitive drive, going through the women’s pre-Christmas interclub unbeaten in Opaki Red’s victory in the Cilla Paulik Trophy.

If Huxtable and Alsop can win their singles and doubles, that’s four of the nine rubbers secured, and then it only takes one other player to sneak a victory in a match to take the points.

Duncan Oakley, Chris Davidson, Brett Dymond, Richie Day, and Jon McNab make up the men’s contingent, while Belinda Day, Tori Bunny, Anika Stewart, and Ella McWilliam are in the women’s mix.

Carterton play Martinborough in the opening fixture at Carterton on Saturday.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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